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One Moment in Time and the Tower Bridge

I check the time: it’s 2am.

The phone is plugged into my computer, which is itself plugged into the wall. There is a big daisy-chain of gadgets soaking up as much energy as possible from the unfamiliar wall-sockets, each tethered to the other out of necessity, their individuality limited by the single UK-outlet adapter I brought with me on my short trip to England.

I turn back to the window and gaze out at Tower Bridge. It’s beautifully lit by the just-rising sun peeking over the horizon enough to make me wonder if my phone’s clock is accurate. As I measure the bridge’s aesthetics with my eyes, I assess the situation with my brain.

It’s been a long day. Really long. My flight from London to Keflavík was cancelled because of an ash cloud sputtered into international airspace by an Icelandic volcano, but not before we passengers were told that it would be just fine, don’t worry, you’ll make it back as planned.

A string of disappointments led to standing in a queue 100-people long, waiting for over an hour for some kind of shuttle that would be taking us who-knows-where so that we could leave the airport for the night, allowing the security guards to go get some sleep without having to worry we’ll spend the night stealing Toblerone from the duty-free store.

It was a full-sized bus that picked us up, and with hip-hop-trance music playing in the background, we watched and judged as the bus driver drove for what seemed like hours before pulling into an alleyway, turning around, and plunging forward into the darkness in the opposite direction, obviously uncertain as to where he was going.

At about 12:30am, we pulled along a small side street adjacent to London’s famous Tower Bridge. We started to unload, weary would-be flyers sleepily wobbling out of the club-music-infused bus out into the chilly, dark night. We were all a little concerned that the driver may have finally just given up and decided that this would be a good spot to dump the tourists with little chance of our bodies ever being found, but we were also too tired to care about our potential impending doom.

Thankfully, minutes after arriving, I found myself sitting at a table, eating a hastily prepared (but delicious) buffet dinner in a lovely hotel. I gobbled the meal as quickly as I could and headed downstairs to use the archaic terminal that was the only Internet access point in the building, before fumbling my way to the fourth floor, sliding my keycard into the door, and nearly falling into an enormous (and incredibly comfortable) bed.

I stayed in bed less than a minute, however, as I knew the bus would be coming back to pick us up in just a few hours, and all of my methods of communication, my phone, my computer, my iPod, had run out of juice during the day, leaving me without access to the outside world. I began pulling cords from tiny pockets in my bag and rigging up the most suitable solution I could devise.

And now here I stand, electronics charging, clothing for the ride back to the airport (and hopefully, back to Iceland) laid out, and eyes drooping from the weight of the day and the expected burdens of the coming morning.

But the bridge is beautiful, so I stare out the window for a few more moments, committing the moment to memory and reminding myself that sometimes a single moment, just one mental snapshot commemorating a second in time, can justify a day of exhaustion and mental anguish.

Update: February 10, 2017

Back then, I was using an iPod Touch instead of a phone as I traveled. This was a device that had all the functionality of an iPhone, but cost about half as much, was skinnier, and lacked the SIM-card slot. Which was fine for me, as most of the communicating I did while on the road was via the internet, anyway. I could pick up WiFi signals most places, and I wasn’t going to pay the ridiculous roaming fees that were available, so it worked splendidly for my purposes.

These days, though, there are many other options, including cheap phones and slow-but-free roaming gimmicks side-carted on to US phone plans.

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Leaving a Way of Life, Not a Country

After a few false-starts, Summer has finally arrived in Reykjavík, and it’s been gorgeous.

The climate right now reminds me of the Bay Area in California, as there’s still a bit of chill in the air, but if you’re able to avoid the breeze, it’s actually quite warm. T-shirt weather.

And the amazing thing about the flora and fauna in Iceland is that it’s biologically built to emerge quickly when the sun starts to shine, because they might not have long to sprout, mate, and otherwise perpetuate the species if they don’t hurry.

Right after a heavy snow melts off, the grass is already green and reaching up toward the sky optimistically, thinking, “This will be the week that I can finally grow tall! Like a tree! Join me, fellow grass-citizens! Today we take our rightful place in society!”

The Icelandic people seem to have the same attitude toward the weather. As soon as there’s any indication of sun peeking through the clouds, people are outside wearing as little clothing as they dare, and when there’s a cloudless sky, they quickly fill any spare bit of park, patio, and beach they can find, lounging about like people without a care in the world.

I love this about Iceland. The people value living a good life to an extreme I haven’t seen in any other country I’ve lived in, and that means you always know exactly where their priorities are. This mentality has made Reykjavík an extremely pleasant city to live in, and the people are a big part of what makes it that way.

While living in Reykjavík, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of amazing people doing amazing things, to explore the cultural undertow of the city, and have been honored to speak at a few events since I arrived in February.

But on May 14, I’ll be taking a wee-jaunt over to England, where I’ll explore a bit and meet up with some good friends I met while living in Argentina, so long ago. When I return to Iceland on May 24th, I’ll be spending more time outside of Reykjavík, hopping from small town to small town, checking out the geysers and waterfalls and glaciers, and seeing firsthand the beauty that I’ve been hearing about since I arrived.

Even though I’ll still be around and spending time in Reykjavík until I leave in June, it feels a bit like goodbye. I’m moving out of my apartment and will be a vagabond again, wandering around wherever chance takes me, carrying all of my possessions with me, with only the broadest of deadlines (my exit-date at the end of June) to make.

I tend to spend my final month in every country on the road, aiming to acquire a breadth of knowledge about the country to go with the depth of knowledge I’ve picked up living as a citizen of a single city. And by the time it arrives, I’m usually ready.

By the end of my third month, I find myself spending more time in front of a computer than wandering about aimlessly. I get how the city and culture works, I’ve got a gym membership and a guitar and a bit of a routine. I see people I know as I walk down the street and wave. It’s wonderful.

But, it does start to get a little predictable.

I miss the shocking realizations from when I first move to a new country. I miss the difficulties and stresses and loneliness and finding myself in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, in the rain, and but still needing to find a place to stay before I can crash for the night.

One of the benefits of traveling the way that I do, four months in each country, is that once that third month rolls around, I know I’ll start to feel like I need to change up my lifestyle. And by the end of that month, I’ll be rearing to go.

So this isn’t goodbye to Iceland, although I’ll be out of the country for ten days.

This is goodbye to a particular lifestyle that I’ve been living in Iceland, and when I return from England I’ll be saying hello to a new one, a more mobile and adventurous one. I can’t wait.

One last thought: most people can tell when it’s time for a change in their lives, but not everyone acts on this knowledge.

This weekend, I’ll be acting on it.

Update: February 10, 2017

The trip to England was lovely, though I got stuck at Heathrow for a few days on the way back, as a volcano erupted in Iceland and stopped air traffic in the region for a time.

Awkwardly, I left right after going out on a really great date with a girl I was looking forward to seeing again. It was while I was overseas that we talked more and decided to see each other for that final month I’d be in Iceland. That led to her coming to live with me in India, and our continuing to date for several years. But our second date was delayed because of a volcano.